She never looked at her reflection in elevator walls. She kept her eyes planted on the dark red carpet at her high-heeled feet for fear of realizing there was no reflection at all.
The elevator stopped on the second floor of the vampire clinic, a medical space reserved in the Brooklyn borough for blood-suckers alone. The second floor was where they kept the plague patients, so Helena was not surprised to see his shiny shoes enter and face away from her.
He said nothing, but she smelled his skin and felt the warmth of him, just like the first time they met, when she offered him a job and he whispered in her ear, “Are you to be my assistant, then?” She had avoided him ever since—at least in appearance.
The elevator lurched to a stop, and Helena for once did look up in time to notice one of his manicured fingers on the red Emergency Stop button. She stood up straighter when he turned to face her, all black hair and burning blue eyes. Two steps later, he was inches from her face, both hands planted on the elevator walls at her sides.
“What were you doing in my office last night?”
She couldn’t—wouldn’t—touch him; anything to avoid feeling the warmth of a living man.
“Styling my hair?” he asked.
“It could use some gel.”
He smiled at this but did not reveal the teeth she knew were straight and white. “How long have you been watching me?”
Since you set foot in the clinic. Every day, she thought, via security cameras. Every night when you fall asleep at your desk or on some random couch. She said, “We’re never even in the same room.”
“I caught you staring at me once in the emergency ward.”
“It’s not every day we welcome a human into our midst. You looked odd surrounded by monsters who want to kill you.”
“Is that what you want then?” He leaned in as if he might kiss her, but his parted lips merely brushed the side of her face. “Do you want to kill me, too?”
Helena was lucky she did not have a heart that increased in pace. She did not have skin that blushed, so nothing could give her away, except perhaps the shortness of her breath. “I don’t want to kill you.” She fought to keep her voice steady. “Not until you find a cure for this damned disease that’s killing us.”
He leaned back some, enabling her to see the way his blue eyes looked black beneath the overhead lights. “I suppose that’s all I’m good for. Once I’ve found the cure, I’m expendable.”
“We didn’t bring you here to kill you.”
She told the truth. Helena’s boss and maker, Vittorio, chose Englishman Damian Keller because of his Harvard degree and specialization in blood-based disease. She suspected Vittorio chose Damian for other reasons, as well. He was young—a science prodigy who, as a child, made grown men cower at his greatness. His face and hair were reminiscent of a Botticelli angel, and worst of all, he bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Elijah.
“Why do you avoid me, Helena?” Again, he leaned toward her, this time pressing a kiss where her pale neck met collarbone.
She closed her eyes, told herself to breathe, just breathe, which only made things worse when she smelled an earthy cologne mixed with the blood that pounded beneath his cheeks. “Why do you seek me out?”
“I should think that would be obvious.”
“Vittorio says you like vampire women. Have a fetish, do you? Or maybe a death wish.”
“I’ve never been harmed by a vampire. Why should it happen now, in this elevator?”
“Nothing is happening here in this elevator, Damian.” But as she said his name, she realized the word tasted sweet. She needed to get past him, get the elevator rolling again, but his arms kept her pinned. If she wanted him to move, she would have to touch him, and if she touched him …
He touched her instead. She felt his hands on the sides of her ribcage, pulsing with heat. His warm forehead found hers. “I’m going to kiss you.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Breath escaped his lips in a chuckle, and she realized, with him standing so close, he very well could have been Elijah, born again into the body of this young doctor—ironic considering Elijah was nothing more than a farmhand outside London a century ago.
He pressed his lips against her mouth. She wanted to bite his tender lower lip, just to get him to stop, but she feared the taste of his blood, having longed for it over the past three months. Helena had no choice but to accept his kiss, and as she opened her lips for him, he tasted like Elijah—black tea and smoke.
She tilted her head up and moaned. It was over a century since Helena felt a man’s touch, and here was a man whose body she could crush but who felt no fear in her presence. She could tell. Although his heart beat with the excitement of their embrace, Damian was not afraid. He trusted her, and she wondered if he was as naïve as other humans who dated vampires and ended up dead.
His hands moved down her body, took hold of her thighs, and lifted her. The elevator wall was cold against her back, but her legs around Damian’s waist burned. She allowed herself to touch his black hair, messy like Elijah’s, but this was not like her intrusion from the night before. The night before, she found Damian sleeping and could not resist just a touch. Now, she took full advantage and dragged her fingers through thick black.
In her mind, she smelled hay mixed with Damian’s blood. She closed her eyes and saw Elijah, shocked to find her, suspected dead, in the middle of his horse stable. She felt Elijah’s callused hands as he touched her face. He said he was married now. He said, Something is different about you.
No longer afraid to touch the very living man who pressed her against the wall, she shoved him away and landed gracefully on her feet. She took hold of Damian’s wrists and captured him in a corner; then, she captured his mouth and stood on tip-toe until their teeth clashed.
Elijah did not kiss her after her return from Venice. He kept saying he was married now, married to someone else. What happened to her in Venice? Who was the strange Italian man she traveled with? Yet the word stuck: married. Her love was married, so she killed him and left him in a bed of hay, covered in blood. The guilt set in later, which was why she punished herself, stayed alone for a hundred years.
But she wasn’t alone. She was in a stopped elevator with a man she wanted to devour.
He tried to free himself from her grasp. Surely, he wanted to hold her again, and she wanted his touch. She wanted his warmth. She wanted …
She let go of his wrists and pulled the knot of his black tie. He stood watching, as if enamored by her black hair, violet eyes, and lips, dyed red from years of blood. She threw the tie to the ground and pulled open the top of his dress shirt, popping a button. When she leaned up to kiss his neck, her fangs distended. She would punish him—punish him for being married, for leaving her to be alone forever.
Soft, smooth hands touched her bare shoulders and she realized she was not in an elevator with Elijah. Elijah’s hands were rough—farmer’s hands. Damian’s hands were soft, the hands of a scientist.
Shocked at her own confusion, she fell backwards and caught herself on the elevator railing.
“Where did you go?” Damian asked.
Helena pushed the Emergency Stop button. The elevator moved, and she stepped off at the next floor.
His voice made her glance back, and there he stood, Elijah, Damian, one and the same—a trap set by Vittorio, tired of her loneliness and hoping this young doctor could fill a space a hundred years old. She still tasted him on her lips as she walked, promising herself she would never again be alone with Damian Keller. Because the next time, he would end up dead.